The Jimmy Buffett Debacle
Many moons ago, a breathless Bobby called Dawn and informed her that Jimmy Buffett tickets were going on sale in a few hours, but he had a meeting, and would she see if she could get on Ticketmaster's site to wait and order two? Not surprisingly, given our aquatic inclinations, both Bobby and I are Buffett fans. Going to a Buffett concert is always a challenge as they sell out quickly but definitely on the list of must-see shows for music fans.
After waiting online, I got a pair of tickets and--ecstatic--emailed Bobby to let him know.
Well, the concert was the day before settlement. Somehow, come Thursday, I had a bad feeling about it ...
Keep in mind that by this point, Bobby and I had been working pretty much non-stop for a week. I'd managed to keep myself on a natural high (what we psychofools like to call hypomania), but I was slowly crashing. Besides my job, I was packing the apartment and attempting to put together Seven in '07 in less than a week. I was sleeping no more than four or five hours each night.
The concert was at the Nissan Pavilion in northern Virginia. Strike one. I'd never been to this particular venue, but Bobby had seen Dave Matthews' Band there a few years earlier. Nonetheless, any trip to northern Virginia is a bad idea. Besides being the hive of beltway traffic from Washington, DC, Virginia's roads actually manage to make less sense than Maryland's, and as a native Marylander--trust me--that is a feat.
Come Thursday--concert day--I was exhausted. Packing was finished, but I was still looking at a good four hours of work on Seven in '07 that night before losing Internet the next day. I got home, tired and crabby, hoping to squeeze in an hour's worth of work before leaving. No, Bobby informed me, we had to leave now.
"WTF," I said (only, believe you me, I said the words), "the concert doesn't start for four hours!"
"We'll need it," he said.
This started an argument. I thought this was rather ridiculous and expected that it would take an hour-and-a-half tops, and we'd be stuck in a parking lot for two hours with nothing to do. Keep in mind, Nissan Pavilion is 70 miles (113 km), all highway, which means that it should take no more than an hour.
"Bring a book then," Bobby told me.
So I stormed around, ripping open boxes and trying to find a book. Finally, I found a book of Stephen King short stories. Bobby asked--annoyed with me (as well he should be; overambitious and high-strung webmasters are not fun to live with as they stare down the barrel of a major project due date)--if I just didn't want to go.
I should have said, "No, let's stay home."
But no. I got aghast. "Of course I want to go!"
By the time we left, it was 4:30. 3.5 hours till concert time.
We got on the road, and both our moods improved. We switched between Buffett on CD and Radio Margaritaville on the satellite radio. We'd been looking forward to this concert for months; it was exciting! We made it to the Capital Beltway, and traffic slowed to a crawl, but this was to be expected, and all things told--Thursday afternoon at rush hour--we were making decent time. It looked like I'd be cracking open my book. We crawled onto I-66. We'd been in the car for one hour by now. 2.5 hours till concert time.
An hour later, we reached the exit for Nissan Pavilion. 1.5 hours till concert time. We followed the signs directing us to the Pavilion and joined a long line of cars waiting on a road that (we presumed) led to the concert venue.
It was growing overcast, and it was very dark on the horizon. "You know it's going to rain," I told Bobby, "because that will be our luck."
Recall that we've had three outdoor concerts so far this summer. During Heaven and Hell, we sat outside in a cold drizzle for all of Black Sabbath. Riverdance was held at Wolf Trap, which--being government-owned--allowed us to cancel our tickets the day of the show when there was a 70% chance of thunderstorms. Only a few weeks later, we were waiting on line for our third outdoor show when the first drops of rain began to splatter against the windshield. We'd brought snacks and sodas and were chowing down, sitting in a line of cars that moved about five feet per minute. We'd been sitting for a half-hour and had barely moved.
One hour till concert time.
We crept along. I began to get really irritated. Bobby wasn't feeling much better. Finally, we crested a hill--having gone no more than a quarter-mile in about forty-five minutes--and we saw the source of the problem.
The road did not lead to a venue but rather to a traffic light that allowed cars onto the road that (I assume) did lead to the venue. The problem was that the traffic light was set to favor the other road, so it would turn green maybe every three minutes, let three cars through, then turn red again. Keeping in mind that this is the only entrance to the Nissan Pavilion, one can understand the chaos that ensued. As we crept closer, three cars at a time, I saw flashing lights at the intersection. Thank Eru, there was a police officer to direct traffic!
In all honesty, I think the cop was sitting there to ticket people who ran the red light to get to the concert. He sure as hell was not directing traffic or attempting in any way to ease the passage of literally hundreds of cars to this concert.
Meanwhile, we have on Radio Margaritaville and lightning is slicing open the sky. We were hoping that the show would be called off or postponed on account of the storms because it was becoming readily apparent that we weren't going to make it on time. We weren't even halfway down the road, and it was a half-hour before showtime.
So, to recap: Seventy miles driven in three hours and we sit--less than a fucking mile from the concert--moving at the rate of about one car-length per minute, watching a cop rack up his monthly quota for traffic citations while we burn our gas and clutch our tickets, futilely but hopefully, in our sweaty fists.
Here comes eight o'clock. Jimmy Buffett takes the stage. We hear it all ... live on the radio. We still have at least a half-hour on the road--possibly longer--before making it to the light. Then parking, walking to the venue ... we were looking to be an hour late. It was pouring down rain. Bobby turned to me and asked what I wanted to do. We'd finally reached a point where we could make a U-turn in the road and, yes, head back home.
I told him that I didn't want to make that call. We sat looking at each other, wipers going full tilt at the pouring rain, and I said, "I think the fact that neither of us wants to answer tells us what both of us want the answer to be."
We were hungry, tired, and crabby. Neither of us wanted to wait another hour to sit in the pouring rain to watch half a concert thanks to the incompetence of Virginia concert venues and the local law enforcement. (Because right around the corner from Nissan is the Patriot Center, and that is nearly as bad.)
So we turned around.
It was one of those moments, watching the endless line of cars (most of which--at the rate the queue was moving--would never make it to the concert) zip by on the other side of the road, having been one of them for more than an hour and thinking, "I'm giving up on seeing Buffett. I have the fucking tickets right here in my hand, and I'm giving up"; it was one of those moments that I know is inconsequential in the larger world scheme but made me want to bawl like a baby nonetheless. It was heartbreaking.
Almost four hours and we never even made it to a destination that should have taken just over an hour to reach.
So we start home. We're moving really well on I-66 ... then we hit the Capital Beltway. Traffic stops. Mind you, we've been in the car without a break to stretch or pee or anything for four hours now. We're tired and annoyed.
What was the cause of the backup? There was a van pulled over to the side of the road. OMG, right? Well, everyone has to stop and look. This is northern Viriginia where people spend time in three places: work, in the car driving to and from work, and in their beds sleeping while they wait to get up for work the next morning. People need something to do with their lives, so they stare at accidents. Or vans pulled over to the side of the road. Oh, and they talk on their cellphones and punch in the Crackberries, about work, of course.
Anyone who lives in an area that doesn't have a lot of traffic, thank Eru or the stars or the Great White Buffalo or just your plain dumb luck because I don't think that I can describe the combination of frustration, rage, and despair that builds up as you enter your fifth hour in a car making a trip that shouldn't take much more than two. We'd now been in the car for more than five hours. I nearly screamed for joy when we crossed back into Maryland and were only fifteen minutes from the exit off the interstate that would take us home.
On the drive home, of course, we listened to the concert. Live. On the radio.
Shortly, we passed what Bobby and I have coined Struggle Street. It's actually Maryland Route 198; we call it Struggle Street because 1) the UPS Center is there, and every time Bobby has to pick up a package there, something is wrong: they've lost the package or shipped it on a truck or they try to give him something for Jose Bombadillo and he's Bobby Felagund and 2) we did our scuba training in a pool off of Struggle Street, i.e. we've both almost drowned there on several occasions. Given our night so far, we both laughed, Haha, we ought to get off on Struggle Street, yeah, that'd be a hoot prolly be in a five-car pile-up hahahahaha. Struggle Street will indeed take us home, but we've always preferred Route 32, which is about two miles past Struggle Street. As we passed the last exit for Struggle Street, brake lights began to flare ahead of us. You know that cliche, "got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach"? That's exactly what I felt.
One freakin' mile from our exit, they have two of four lanes of Interstate 95 shut down so that they can repave the righthand lane. We've now been in the car for more than five hours. We're still twenty minutes from home but we're less than a minute from our exit. We can see it (much like we could see the stupid cop watching the traffic back up at the red light going into Nissan Pavillion).
Bobby actually yelled in rage at the road. I said, "I'm going to cry." He thought I was kidding. Nope. I meant it. I bawled. No, it wasn't just about the stupid concert or being exhausted and wasting a night sitting in traffic but many weeks worth of uncertainty and frustration and sheer exhaustion suddenly coming out. I cried for about ten minutes, till Bobby made an illegal maneuver to get us to our exit. Afterwards, my head felt very stuffed up, but otherwise, I felt better, like I could handle the last leg of frustrations--settlement, moving, et cetera--in the days to come.
At ten o'clock, we reached Ellicott City. We stopped at Uno's to have supper. I tried to be cheerful, but it was hard, and neither of us was much in the mood for laughter. Our last night in Ellicott City, and I couldn't wait for it to be over.
When we came out, the concert had ended, so it probably went on for about two hours. So we maybe would have seen half of it, then faced two hours trying to get out of the single road back to the highway and then the perilous drive home. As heartbroken I was at having to miss Buffett, I still think that we made the right choice in turning around when we did. But I was beyond angry at the incompetence of the venue and the local law enforcement in how they handled things. No, ruining an eager young couple's night might not lead to the ruination of the world, but it's still not a nice thing to do.
It was kind of funny because Bobby had done the walk-through of the house that afternoon, and he'd told everyone about the concert and everyone was insanely jealous. So, the next morning at settlement, people would come in one by one, their eyes would brighten, and they'd ask, "How was Buffett?" As more and more people arrived, the new arrival would ask and everyone else would chorus, "Don't ask."
I keep telling Bobby that this is the sort of thing we'll laugh about in years' time. But even with a little distance now, I have trouble seeing the humor.